Sunday, 9 March 2014

Honeymoon #3 Part 1 - Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo

I finally had the time to sit myself down and write a post about our real honeymoon to Europe in late October of 2013.  It was 2hung's first time in Europe and we visited Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo, Venice, Florence and Rome.  First, let's talk about what we did in France and Monaco.

We stayed at The Westin Vendome which was located steps from the Tuileries Metro station and maybe a 5-10 min walk to the Louvre.  I still remember stepping out of the Metro station and the feeling of awe at the sight of Paris.

Day 1:
We spent the first day in the Jardin des Tuileries, taking pictures by the pyramids at the Louvre and sightseeing on the Ile de la Cite.  Strolling through the garden was so relaxing and the surrounding buildings were so beautiful.  We enjoyed walking by or through it almost everyday that we were there.

We bought our first Parisian lunch at a food truck in the Jardin des Tuileries called Paul.  This is a pretty common chain of boulangeries in Paris.

2hung was quite obsessed with the pyramids at the Louvre and didn't really want to leave.

Seeing as this was our honeymoon, we left our mark at the Pont des Artes as many other lovers have done.

We then continued to tour the Notre-Dame Cathedral, but unfortunately, the towers were closed that day so we didn't get to go up to see the gargoyles.

Another thing that we tried to do everyday in Paris was to eat a lot of pastries and sweets.  We stopped by Angelina on the way back to the hotel to grab some pastries and macarons.  There was a long wait for afternoon tea inside, so we just got them to go and ate them at the hotel.  Angelina is famous for their Mont Blanc, but I actually liked their Paris-New York pastry a lot better.

This was our hotel room at The Westin Vendome.  It's a huge room for Paris standards.  Thanks to my SPG points.  :)

Our first dinner in Paris was at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon on the Champs Elysees which is a two-star Michelin restaurant.  This was our baller dinner and in my opinion worth every penny.  It was a nine-course adventure which featured the best lobster we've ever tasted, the best lamb we've ever tasted and the smoothest mashed potatoes we've ever tasted.

Day 2:
The next morning, we set off for the Marche Bastille to see where the locals do their grocery shopping.  the market was quite busy and we bought some unpasteurized cheeses and yummy grapes for enjoyment later that night.  Not a lot of the vendors spoke English, but good thing one of the cheese vendors did and she let us try different kinds of cheeses before we made our purchase.  The friendliness level in Pairs had been good so far.

After the market, we went to Breizh Cafe for some super yummy buckwheat crepes done the right way.  We ordered the special of the day which was made with scallops and leeks, as well as another that had ham, cheese and egg as toppings.  They were both delicious.

The afternoon was dedicated to Musee d'Orsay.  I had never visited this museum in my previous visits to Paris, so this was one of the museums that I definitely wanted to squeeze into our trip besides all the eating and drinking.  They were housing an exhibit on Masculine - The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day that day.  2hung was a little hesitant to see the exhibit, but I thought we could take a quick look. :)
What we were impressed with the most at the Musee d'Orsay were all the wonderful Impressionist paintings.  I think that was one of my favourite parts of all the museum visits on this trip.

Then, it was time to get some rest before dinner, so we went to Laduree for some afternoon tea and of course to try their world famous macarons.  The interior of this particular one located in the 6th arrondissement was decorated like a Chinese garden.  The macarons were indeed very good, especially the one which was black pepper flavoured.  Very unique, but the best macarons of our trip were yet to come.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called J'Go that was based on a recommendation from my coworker in Montreal.  We were having an ok time until they got our order wrong and then we had to wait for a very long time before they brought us what we ordered.  In the meantime, they didn't come to explain to us what happened, but in the end they gave us free glasses of wine as a sign of apology.  I guess it was because we didn't speak French and they didn't speak English very well, so the skipped the explanation part, but we were kind of disappointed by this meal.  We ordered some pate, duck breast and a pork dish.  The food was just average so I wish we could've spent our money elsewhere.

Day 3:
Day 3 was all about the Louvre.  2hung had been wanting to go there since day 1.  We had the Paris Museum Pass so we bypassed the line.  Definitely get the Nintendo DS audio guide for the Louvre or else it would be a bit overwhelming deciding where to go in such a huge museum.  We took one of the pre-programmed tours which brings us to see all the must-see masterpieces and that took up most of the day to complete.  Unfortunately, the Winged Victory was being restored so we didn't get to see it.

After the museum visit, I demanded that we go shopping, so took off to the Rue St Honore.  We stopped by the Pierre Herme store on the way.  This is where we discovered the best macarons we've ever tasted and some really good gaufres.  I loved the creamy filling of the macarons and especially the white truffle and noisette flavoured one.  The gaufres were filled with a rose and raspberry cream.

We also ran into this Maille mustard store where we bought mustard which were freshly potted.  On our next visit to Paris, we might bring back our mustard pot to get it refilled.

Ok, so back to the shopping, we visited the original Chanel store which was on Rue Cambon and the goal of my trip was to buy a Chanel classic flap bag in black leather and this is me walking away a winner.

Other items that were on my list were a pair of Christian Louboutins and a Longchamp bag.  :)

Dinner that night started off a little bit scary, because I almost got pick pocketed on the crowded metro!  I noticed a man standing in front of me with his arm strangely hidden behind his backpack and then I looked down and realized that my purse zippers were half open.  I quickly moved away from the thief and checked that I still had my wallet/cell phone/passport.  The man just pretended like nothing happened!  Good thing our stop was coming up, so we hopped off and were safe and sound.

Thankfully, the wonderful meal that night calmed my nerves.  We made reservations at a restaurant called Septime and I just read that they have been awarded one star by the Micheline guide 2014.  This was a six-course meal at a much lower price than Joel Robuchon.  We enjoyed all the dishes, except the pigeon (we had many different kinds of poultry on this trip) was a little bit on the rare side, so the waitress offered to have it thrown back on the grill for me.  All in all the dinner was great.

Day 4:
We started day 4 with a visit to Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur Basilica.  The views of Paris from up high were amazing.

After Montmartre, we went for lunch at a bistro then did some more city walking and eating.  We also had pastries from two patisseries that day.

First, we went to Patisserie des Reves.  I had seen some of the videos on their website about how they make their pastries, and it looked amazing, so we definitely wanted to try it.  We got the tarte au citron and seasonal tart with figs.  They were very good!  I wish we could've gone back to buy more.

We also ran into a patisserie called Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki and we purchased a green tea roll cake and some green tea truffles which were also very good.

Dinner was at a restaurant called Spring which was located very close to the Louvre.  This restaurant is situated in a tiny side street and it seems somewhat exclusive at first because you actually have to ring the doorbell for them to let you in and of course you should make sure you have a reservation.  We had another wonderful six-course meal at Spring.  Ok, maybe there's a pattern here, our dinners have consisted over four courses each night.  I enjoyed every dish and especially the langoustine and the tiny complimentary choux creme at the end of the meal.  I think they are the best that I've ever had.  Another pattern noted - there were a lot of best evers on this trip.

Day 5:
On our last day in Paris, we took a short trip to visit the Palace of Versailles.  It was only a 45 min train ride from Paris.  This time I got to visit the entire Versailles including the garden and Marie Antoinette's estate.  This involved a lot of walking and I was so tired at the end of the day.

Dinner on day 5 was at a local bistro called Le 6 Paul Bert.  I think other than falling for tourist traps, another thing that non-French speaking tourists have to be aware of is you may not necessarily want to go to restaurants that are too local because the servers there were surprised that we were tourists trying to dine at their restaurant, so we got service that was somewhat cold and very non-attentive.  The food was actually very tasty but the fact that you don't get friendly service is bound to give a negative experience.  They were of course attentive to all the other tables there who were locals.

Day 6:
It was time to say goodbye to Paris and head to Nice and Monte Carlo.  We took an early flight out to Nice and then took a bus over to check in at the Fairmont Monte Carlo for two nights.  The Fairmont Monte Carlo was located right at the world famous Hairpin Bend.  They were nice enough to treat us to a bottle of champagne in our hotel suite!  We spent the latter half of the day walking around Monte Carlo.

After dinner that night, we got all dressed up in anticipation of paying a visit to the Monte Carlo Casino.  There was not entrance fee required to go into the casino itself and to the slots and table games.  When we entered the room, it was pretty dead.  There were only a few customers playing the slots or standing around.  It was not what I pictured it to be at all and apparently you didn't even need to be very dressed up.  There is an entrance fee of 10 Euros to go into the more private areas which probably involved table games with higher stakes.  We didn't bother going in as we weren't planning on giving them any of our money, so we just called it a night.  In fact, the casino at the Fairmont was way more happening than the main casino itself.

The next morning, we took a short 20 min train ride over to Nice to explore the city.  The hotel concierge was great and gave us a recommendation for lunch in the old part of town.  It was definitely a leisurely day compared to Paris because we didn't have anything planned or any museums to visit.  We lied down at the rocky beach for a bit and 2hung enjoyed a nap in the sun.

During our two nights in Monte Carlo, we had dinner at the same restaurant called Maison du Caviar.  We actually thought they had very good food and was very reasonably priced for a city like Monte Carlo.  We didn't want to take the risk of paying a lot of money for not so great food, so we took a recommendation from our concierge and went back again two nights in a roll.

That concludes the first half of our honeymoon.  I will cover the Italian half of our honeymoon in another post.

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